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West Papua Report
May 2006

The May 2006 "West Papua Report" is the 27th in a series of monthly reports that focus on developments affecting Papuans. This reporting series is produced by the West Papua Advocacy Team (WPAT) drawing on media accounts, other NGO assessments and analysis and reporting from sources within West Papua. Previous monthly reports have been released under the auspices of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Center. Because of changes at the Center which have necessitated the cessation of a number of country-specific programs, this and future monthly reports will be under the auspices of the West Papua Advocacy Team, now operating as a non-profit organization without affiliation to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Center.


UNHCR Barred from Papua

International concern about the deteriorating human rights environment in West Papua was evident in a hearing convened in the Australian Senate in May to consider changes in the country's immigration law. The regional representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Neil Wright, expressed concern about reports of human rights abuses in the Indonesian province and emphasized that UNHCR officials have been unable to gain access to the region.

"I can confirm that, despite repeated requests, the UNHCR has not been given permission by the government in Jakarta to have access to West Papua," he said. "We do not have direct information from there. We do, of course, have information coming from those who cross into Papua New Guinea and are interviewed by us."

As an example, Mr. Wright also told the hearing that the UN has received an appeal from Papuan asylum seeker Siti Wanggai, whose daughter has been given asylum in Australia. Wanggai, who is in hiding in Papua New Guinea, claims she was forced by Indonesian authorities to make an appeal to have her daughter return to Indonesia.

Indonesian Government Attempts to Silence Foreign Critics of its Policies in West Papua

Melbourne-based newspaper The Age reported on May 22 that Australian academics fear they are being shut out from Indonesia after Jakarta banned cooperation between Indonesian institutions with two Australian universities. The ban on cooperation covers the enrollment and attendance of Indonesian students in the RMIT University and Deakin University, and a ban on the issuance of visas to academics from both institutions. The ban was issued by the Indonesian Ministry of Higher Education, which has urged all Indonesian universities to end co-operation with the two Australian institutions.

Academics see the ban as an attempt to silence Australian academic criticism of Jakarta over its policies in West Papua. The Jakarta government intimidation, according to Dr. Clinton Fernandes, a lecturer at the University of New South, is affecting other institutions. "They know that if you are an Indonesia specialist, access to Indonesia to do field work is essential to your career." Dr Richard Chauvel, an expert on Papua at Victoria University, described the ban as a revival of the uncertainty academics faced during the Soeharto dictatorship, when bans were often imposed without a stated reason.

Former Indonesian Military Chief Urges Expansion of Indonesian Intelligence

The Indonesian state news agency, Antara, reported on May 23 that former Indonesian military chief General (ret.) Wiranto told a special committee of the Regional Representative Council (DPR) that groups in certain countries such as the U.S., Australia and in Western Europe were seeking to "internationalize" the situation in West Papua. He contended that such groups used "tricks" similar to those used at the height of the East Timorese pro-independence movement.

To address this purported threat, he recommended that the national intelligence agency (BIN) sharpen its overseas operations so as to foil what he alleged to be efforts to cause Papua`s disintegration.

Amnesty International Report Details Human Rights Problems in West Papua

In a May report on Indonesia, Amnesty International noted the following updates on the conditions in West Papua:

In March, the military announced plans to increase troop numbers in Papua by 15,000. There were concerns that this might lead to more human rights violations in the province. Hundreds of additional military troops were reportedly sent to Merauke in October. Concerns were also expressed that troops withdrawn from NAD (Aceh) could be deployed in Papua.

Tight restrictions on access to Papua by international human rights monitors, as well as harassment and intimidation of local activists, hampered independent human rights monitoring. At least two peaceful supporters of Papuan independence were sentenced to long jail sentences. There were reports of arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment.

In April, prisoners of conscience Yusak Pakage and Filep Karma were sentenced to 10 and 15 years in prison, respectively, for having raised the Papuan flag in December 2004.  Both were imprisoned in Jayapura, Papua province, and had lodged appeals to the Supreme Court.

In September, two police officers were acquitted by the Human Rights Court in Makassar but the victims were denied reparations. The officers were charged with command responsibility for the killing of three people and the torture of many others in Abepura, Papua in 2000 . The initial investigation was marred by allegations of witness intimidation. The case suffered severe delays in both the investigation and trial stages. The victims and their families lodged an appeal.

Australian Officials Reject One of 43 Papuan Asylum Seekers

At least 43 Papuans who in January fled genocide in West Papua and were granted "temporary protection visas" have protested the Australian government's decision to deny a visa to one of them. According to the Papuans,  David Wainggai, whose father was the founder of the West Papua Independence movement was denied a visa. Wainggai's father died as a political prisoner in an Indonesian prison under mysterious circumstances.

Papuans contend that Wanggai will undoubtedly suffer persecution if he is forced to return to Indonesia.

Australian officials responsible for the decision noted that "This person (Wainggai) does have the right to re-enter and live in another country ...The person has not yet exhausted his rights to re-enter and live in another country." Observers believe that Australia wants to send Wainggai to Japan because his mother was born there. However, his mother reportedly renounced her Japanese citizenship some years ago and currently lives in Jakarta.

Wainggai's lawyer, David Mann, from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, told the media that his client was considering all his legal options, and would apply to the Refugee Review Tribunal to have his case heard. He emphasized that Wainggai does not have any "right" to go to Japan.

New Refugee Policy Under Consideration in Australia Likened to Refugee Policy Targeting Jews in World War II Europe

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on May 26 that an Australian Senate inquiry investigating Australia's plan to send asylum-seekers to offshore processing centers has heard comparisons to the treatment of Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. Former Federal Court Justice Ronald Merkel compared offshore processing to Switzerland turning away Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. "The very context in which this bill has come before the Parliament, namely the West Papuans, has chilling reminders of what occurred in the Second World War," he said.

Also giving evidence was Neill Wright from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He stated that UNHCR "considers the bill to be discriminatory and inferior." Several Coalition MPs have already raised concerns over the proposed policy.

The Senate Committee heard a range of legal and human rights arguments against the idea. Among the critics, 47 international NGOs signed a letter to Prime Minister John Howard developed by WPAT protesting the proposed policy (see following item regarding this letter). The Australian government's attempts to fashion a new refugee policy follows a serious diplomatic row with Indonesia after a group of Papuans arrived in Australia in January and were given protective asylum. The Papuans braved a five-day open ocean voyage in an outrigger canoe to escape conditions under Indonesian rule which they described as "genocidal."

The inquiry is due to report next month.

International NGOs Appeal to Australian Government To Adhere to International Standards Regarding Papuan And Other Asylum Seekers

A May 11 letter to Prime Minister John Howard signed by 47 NGOs based in eight countries urged the Australian government "to uphold its obligations under the Refugee Convention, to recognize the plight of Papuans suffering brutalization on your doorstep, and to adopt humane refugee policies in keeping with the widely recognized principles of the Australian people."

The wide range of international organizations protested the Australian government's plan to amend its law to exclude refugees arriving by boat without visas from a fair consideration of their claim. The refugees would be held in conditions described by observers as "inhumane."

Among the signatories were Human Rights Watch; Institute on Religion and Public Policy; International Immigrants Foundation; Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights (drafter); TAPOL, the Indonesia Human Rights Campaign; Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International; Asia-Pacific Solidarity Coalition; Leadership Conference of Women Religious; Great Lakes Rural Australians for Refugees; and Pax Christi USA.

(View the letter at the website of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network)

Logging in West Papua Devastates Papuan Ecology, Marginalizes Papuan People

The Newsletter published by Down to Earth for May 2006 (No. 69)  focuses on the future of Papuan forests. The well-researched article rings alarm bells regarding the rampant devastation of Papuan forests by corporations, often operating illegally and under the protection of Indonesian security forces.

The report include the following major points:

The island of New Guinea - of which West Papua is the western part - has one of the largest areas of intact forest remaining on earth. These forests have huge biodiversity and a high proportion of the plants and animals found there are unique to the island.

Papuan forests are the focus of a power struggle between the Indonesian central government and West Papua. Legal and illegal logging are causing rampant deforestation, but have also disenfranchised the indigenous population.

Papuans are increasingly aware that while their rich natural resources - minerals and fisheries, as well as forests - make the biggest contribution to state revenues, they remain in poverty. The lack of benefits from decades of exploitation was underlined last year when the World Bank reported that 40% of Papuans remained below the poverty line, more than twice the national average for Indonesia.

Matters came to a head when central government launched Operation Hutan Lestari II to curb 'illegal logging'. All community logging licenses were withdrawn, leaving communities with no legal alternative to generate income from their forests.

An April agreement signed by the central government with a Chinese state firm calls for investment of over one billion dollars in a massive timber extraction operation. The deal could ignite a power struggle between central government in Jakarta and Papua's provincial government, which has already complained about the lack of decision-making power delivered under special autonomy measures introduced four years ago. The investment, which can be expected to accelerate the marginalization of indigenous Papuans in the logging zones, is also likely to fuel political unrest amongst a population already angry about outsiders profiting from Papua's natural riches.

Police Abuse of Papuan Detainees Claimed

In the course of proceedings against 16 Papuans accused of involvement in the violent March 16 demonstrations in Jayapura in which security force officials were killed, lawyers for the defendants charged their clients were routinely beaten in custody. The lawyer for the defense, Iwan Niode, said the defendants were not safe in police custody, and that they had been regularly hit by officers. "I saw for myself a defendant, Patrisius Aronggear, hit by an officer and other defendants have said they have been hit, too." The presiding judge promised to raise the issue of alleged abuse to the chief prosecutors and the police but refused the requests of defense lawyers to transfer the detainees out of local police custody. The judge also pledged to request the prosecutor to ensure that the defendants' families had easier access to them.

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